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The Death of Innocents: A True Story of…

The Death of Innocents: A True Story of Murder, Medicine, and High-Stake…

by Richard Firstman

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This true-crime book is also a gripping account of the difficulties of doing science in the politically-charged area of pediatric medicine. No single indicator is known for sudden infant death syndrome; therefore it is possible (and perhaps likely) the outcome of several different medical problems, making research into the syndrome challenging. In the main case in this book, smothering is mistaken for apneic episodes (naturally stopped breathing), leading to a theory connecting apnea and SIDS which leads to the breath monitoring movement of the 1980's. The paper that introduces this theory is also used as evidence that SIDS runs in families, but twenty years later new evidence and theories suggest that multiple SIDS deaths may often be murders. Meanwhile individual SIDS deaths are due to an unknown natural process, but occur less often when babies sleep on their backs.

This book will make you think about the ethics of science, the pros and cons of advocacy groups and corporate support, the subtlety of translating science for the courtroom, and a myriad of other important social issues and how they interact.

Recommended for all citizens. ( )
1 vote chellerystick | Jun 24, 2010 |
A prosecutor in upstate New York investigated a family in which three children had all died of SIDS. When he brought in experts he learned that current thinking is that SIDS doesn't run in families and that this looked like murder. The father was subsequently convicted. One of the experts mentioned that a paper that's used to "prove" that SIDS is a family disease was based on a family in New York state who lost five children. He got interested in that case and found the family, along with evidence that pointed to murder, and he brought the mother to trial.
Then the book switches and gets into the history of SIDS and its treatment. One doctor had a theory that apnea was the cause, which led to a whole industry of monitors for babies who seemed to have breathing problems. But his theory is based on very little evidence, including the family who had lost five children, supposedly because of apnea. The books is really about research and how we know what we know, and the unintended consequences of assumptions. It reads like a mystery written by Berton Rouche. Just fascinating.
I wasn't at all bothered by the children's deaths and feel kind of odd about it – several people I told about the book were upset just hearing a brief mention of them. For me, little babies don't seem like real people, and it was so long ago. ( )
  piemouth | Jun 11, 2010 |
Murder, medicine, and science. Infant crib death turns out to be murder. Fascinating real life story. ( )
  AnneliM |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553379771, Paperback)

A rule of thumb in forensics: one dead baby is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS); two dead babies is suspicious; three dead babies is murder. The Death of Innocents starts off a bit slow, but as soon as a new district attorney decides to pursue an old case of five siblings whose deaths were attributed to SIDS, the story kicks into high gear. There are two villains: the quietly furious mother who admitted to smothering her children--one of whom was 2 years old, and kicked and flailed as he died--and the arrogant medical researcher who was so eager to make a name for himself that he was willfully blind to the warnings of danger. Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan, a husband-wife team, write about abuse of the scientific method as suspensefully as they write about parental abuse of babies. The Death of Innocents was named a 1997 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. The NYT writes, The Death of Innocents "...seamlessly weaves the tales of the earlier and later murder cases, separated by two decades, with the complicated scientific and social issues, the many disparate personalities, documents, interviews and dramatic moments. The book is paced like a thriller, and it will be read like one."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:56 -0400)

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